by Brenda S. Cox
“Elinor . . . possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother . . . She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them.” –Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen often gives us detailed descriptions of her characters’ personalities, as well as their thoughts, actions, and feelings. Can we describe them with modern personality types?
Myers-Briggs types are a popular way to classify personalities. Myers and Briggs set up four scales, each one a continuum, and combined those qualities to make sixteen types. The scales are:
Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
We looked at these last week.
Intuition (N) or Sensation (S)
Those who prefer Sensation tend to focus on facts, experience, and concrete details. They focus on present reality. Those who prefer Intuition are more interested in the big picture. They enjoy imagery and imagination, looking to the future and connecting ideas.
In Sense and Sensibility, practical Elinor is an S, while imaginative Marianne is an N. Again, we can all function both ways; it’s just a matter of what we like best and do most often.
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This scale is about how you make choices. The T prefers objective, impersonal facts and ideas as a basis for decisions. The F prefers to decide based on personal values, relationships, and emotions.
This can create conflict, as we see again in Sense and Sensibility. Marianne, an F, sometimes thinks that Elinor, a T, is cold and heartless. Elinor does feel deeply, but she bases her decisions more on principles than on feelings. Marianne’s decisions are based more on her feelings and relationships.
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
Do you like closure, plans, and decisions that are made? Then you’re probably a J. J’s prefer to finish their work completely before they play. Or do you prefer flexibility, adaptability, keeping your options open, flying by the seat of your pants? That’s a P. P’s more easily relax and play.
Mr. Bingley is a P. He tells Elizabeth, “Whatever I do is done in a hurry . . . and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes.” He later agrees that, if a friend should tell him to stay, he might very well turn around and stay. Darcy is a J, and tells his friend that leaving so suddenly would “leave very necessary business undone.”
If you figure out your preference on each of these four scales, you might come up as an INTJ, an ESFP, or any other combination of those letters. Or, like me, you might be borderline in some of the areas, so several of the four-letter types might fit you.
I’m not going to try to classify Austen’s characters according to the sixteen types, although some people have done that and you can see if you agree with them or not. I’ve given you some of those sites at the end.
There’s another way I find easier to see and remember. Four “temperaments” are combinations of Myers-Briggs characteristics: SJ, SP, NF, and NT. These groups have a lot in common with each other, regardless of the other letters that are included. So, for example, an ISFJ would be similar in some ways to an ESTJ, since both are SJ’s.
Let’s see if we can find those temperaments in Jane Austen’s characters.
SJ: The Rule-Keeper
The SJ is the rule-keeper. He or she likes to follow the rules and do things “right.” SJ’s make sure everything gets done. They are sensible, reliable, and hard-working.
Elinor Dashwood is a great example of an SJ. She always acts sensibly. She knows that she is supposed to treat people kindly, regardless of what she thinks of them, and so she does that. She keeps her mother looking for an affordable place so they won’t overspend their income. She keeps her promise to Lucy, even though it is very painful to her. Elinor’s sweetheart, Edward Ferrars, is also an SJ who keeps an even more difficult promise to Lucy because it is the right thing to do.
Anne Elliot is another SJ. Before she leaves Kellynch, she makes sure everything is done that she thinks needs to be done—cataloguing the books and pictures, making sure the garden is taken care of, and saying goodbye to all the families in the parish. She knows that she is supposed to keep her feelings to herself and not let anyone see that she still loves Wentworth, so she hides her feelings. When she visits Mary, she knows what each person in the family needs, and tries to do what is right for each one.
SP: The Firefighter
The SP is the firefighter. Great at dealing with crises, the SP is flexible, free, looks for options, and deals with whatever is going on. SP’s look for exciting chances and enjoyable opportunities. They may be artistic or athletic. They usually don’t tolerate boredom well.
Henry Crawford is probably an SP. Darting from here to there, he is never long in one place and never long with one woman. Even Fanny, whom he claims to love, is overshadowed by Maria Rushworth when she is in front of him.
Perhaps Charlotte Lucas is also something of an SP. Though she is steadier than Henry Crawford, she still sees an opportunity and grabs it. When Elizabeth turns down Mr. Collins, Charlotte wastes no time in seeing that he is her chance for an established home, and she works so fast we hardly know what is happening before she and Mr. Collins are engaged.
Lydia Bennet, darting from one activity to another and from one man to another, is another SP. She’s also a strong Extrovert, always interacting with people! We can’t imagine her sitting quietly and introspectively at all.
NT: The Learner
NT’s are the learners and the scientists. They are rational, analytical, and competent. They love to learn, to understand, to research and invent. They criticize themselves constantly and have high expectations. Rules are guidelines for them, which they only follow if they consider those rules to be logical and beneficial.
I think Darcy may be an NT. He is thoughtful and analyzes his decisions in depth. He even feels compelled to explain to Elizabeth, in his first proposal, all the reasons that he should not marry her. He has tried by reason to keep himself on the path decreed by society. That path would have led him to marry a woman from a higher level in society. But his emotions have overcome his reason, which shames him. When Elizabeth refuses him, he quite logically tries to change his character to become what she wants.
Henry Tilney is a different sort of NT, more extroverted and joyful. But he is still a reader and a thinker. He has studied perspective, and analyzes even the lovely views he sees from Beechen Cliff. He makes witty remarks about the meaning of words, showing that he knows the literary debates of his day.
Mr. Bennet, locked in his library much of the time, is probably also an NT who loves to learn. But he is a very introverted one, who avoids groups of people.
NF: The People Person
The NF is a people person. NF’s want everyone around them to be happy and getting along. They are enthusiastic, insightful, and sympathetic. They search for identity, to be “real” and significant.
Fanny Price is an NF. She watches the people around her. She sees Henry Crawford’s deceptions, Mary Crawford’s shallowness, and Maria Bertram’s love for Henry. She regularly searches her own heart, confronting her own love for Edmund but still showing sympathy for him as he is attracted to Mary. I think she will be an excellent pastor’s wife as she has an intuitive understanding of people and their motivations. Fanny may also have some SJ in her, though, as she has very firm ideas of what is right and wrong. So perhaps she’s borderline N/S.
Marianne Dashwood is another NF, though a more selfish one than Fanny, at least for most of her story. She is intuitive and very much driven by her feelings and perceptions. Her enthusiasm is boundless—for Willoughby, for poetry, for Cowper, and for love.
Jane Bennet is probably another NF, a quieter one than Marianne. She always wants harmony around her. She chooses to think the best of people.
For me, while I’m a strong I and a strong J, I’m borderline N/S and T/F, so I can relate to several of these temperaments. Depending on my circumstances, needs, and mood, I might sometimes act more like an SJ, sometimes like an NT, and occasionally like an NF.
What temperament type best describes you? Do you agree with the way I have classified these characters? What other Austen characters might fit one of these temperament types? Please share your ideas with us!
Differences in temperaments can cause conflicts. But if we accept our differences, they can also be a great benefit, as each person uses his or her strengths. We can balance each other out, as Elinor and Marianne do for each other. How can you show appreciation for someone in your life right now who is very different than you are?
Personality Types in Jane Austen:
The Highly Sensitive Person (coming in two weeks)
The Enneagram (coming in three weeks)
Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, by David Keirsey
Suggested Myers-Briggs types for Jane Austen’s characters can be found at:
“Jane Austen Meets Carl Jung” in Persuasions On-Line Winter 2001 is a fascinating article comparing Elizabeth and Darcy’s Myers-Briggs types.
Verily gives a literary heroine for each Myers-Briggs type, including a few Austen characters.